Synopsis – On the Italian Riviera, an unlikely but strong friendship grows between a human being and a sea monster disguised as a human.
My Take – As we all know by now, animation studio Pixar never ceases to amaze, with even their simplest told stories ending up becoming masterpieces.
However, their latest, directed by Enrico Casarosa, a Pixar animator who made his mark with the Oscar-nominated short La Luna, is quite different from their latest set of films which mainly dealt with heavy subjects like our mortality, consciousness and ones role in the universe, and instead is a straightforward, sweet, sun-kissed film, with gentle rhythms and a generous spirit with focus on sea creatures, eating pastas and gelatos, driving Vespas, but most importantly on a friendship between two boys.
Like all Pixar productions, the film serves its message in a good-looking package that brims with feel-good verve, and animation that is as striking as you’d expect from the banner.
Sure, whilst it lacks the emotional weight of the best of Pixar‘s output and its pacing meanders a little, it is still a very good film that’s funny, heartwarming and gorgeous with a really good message. You know, the standard hit Disney-Pixar staple the families have loved for decades.
Set outside the beautiful seaside town of Portorosso in the Italian Riviera, the story follows Luca Paguro (voice of Jacob Tremblay), a young sea-monster, who spends his time herding his school of fish, and wondering how the outside world of humans is like. While his parents Daniela (voice of Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (voice of Jim Gaffigan) are quite protective about him and don’t want him to venture outside, Luca continues to look at the world beyond the water with a mixture of fear and curiosity.
An opportunity he gets to explore when he meets Alberto Scorfano (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer), another teenage sea-monster, who has no qualms about traversing on the land, and encourages Luca to step beyond into the forbidden zone. And upon discovering that they basically turn into humans when they come on land, unless they come in contact with water which reveals their amphibian features, Luca and Alberto experiment with all kinds of adventures, and even dream of owning a Vespa scooter and traveling the world.
However when Luca’s parents discover what he has been doing, and decide to send him away with Uncle Ugo (voice of Sacha Baron Cohen) into the deep, he runs away with Alberto to Portorosso, where they meet Giulia (voice of Emma Berman), a friendly girl who takes them into her house and allows them to collaborate on a sports contest that could earn them enough money to buy at least a worn out Vespa.
While the plot sounds eerily familiar to Disney‘s own The Little Mermaid (1989), with Ariel replaced with Luca, and Prince Eric replaced by the Vespa scooter, but there is something refreshing about the straightforward approach to the film that essentially works as a fun watch that entertains while it runs.
In its basic essence, this is a typical heartwarming film about two souls on a common journey to the unknown, bonding with each other in the process, and director Casarosa suffuses every frame of his feature debut with an aching remembrance of a lost age and friendship.
What starts out as a simple friendship between Luca and Alberto grows into something more complicated when Giulia enters the picture. It isn’t a romantic quandary at all. Instead, the film plays with the idea that anyone can have different emotionally satisfying relationships with different people, while acknowledging how hard that can be to accept. And the film’s emotional arc isn’t defined by one or two big moments.
Instead, the best bits are actually interspersed between the more archetypal climatic moments. From Luca and Alberto trying gelato for the first time to bonding over a telescope, the comparatively ordinary interactions weave together to create an evocative coming-of-age tale.
But most importantly it will have you longing for your own childhood friendships, friends who took you on adventures, friends who helped you overcome your fears, friends who made you laugh until snot came out of your nose, friends who were maybe a little too possessive, and friends who always had your back. And those are friendships to be cherished, no matter what your gender.
As one would expect, the animation is stellar. Pixar is known for its picturesque landscapes, bright colors, and sharp details, and all of that is found in abundance in this film. The transformation scenes from sea monster to human alone are absolutely stunning. While the undersea setting is gorgeous, the seaside town of Portorosso is what really shines. Through Luca and Alberto’s eyes, it makes sense that the human setting should be so lovingly augmented.
All the little details from the laundry hanging between the streets, the uneven cobblestones, the posters on the walls, create a gorgeous rendition of the real world. The film’s setting allowed the animators to create gorgeous Italian landscapes and backdrops, which, though animated, could make anyone desperate to live within this film. The crisp blues and greens fly off the screen, and it’s impossible to not get lost in the postcard imagery.
The voice performances are also exemplary as Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer and Emma Berman are absolutely fantastic, while Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Saverio Raimondo, Marco Barricelli, Sandy Martin, Giacomo Gianniotti and Sacha Baron Cohen provide good support. On the whole, ‘Luca’ is a charming coming-of-age tale that is tremendous fun, nostalgic and visually delightful.
Directed – Enrico Casarosa
Rated – PG
Run Time – 101 minutes